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Ask Our Lawyer - October 2005

Q: I’m infuriated by the stories I keep hearing about drivers who get off after hitting or killing a motorcyclist. What can we do to make sure that local prosecutors take these cases seriously ?

A: That’s a great question, and a subject in which we have been actively involved. Many times, it’s up to us in the motorcycling community to help local prosecutors remember how important these cases are, not just for the family of the rider hurt or killed, but also for the whole motorcycling community. There are a number of things you can do:

  1. Call your ABATE Legal Services office. Let the ABATE lawyers help you understand the legal process and what to expect from the law enforcement agencies who will investigate and prosecute any potential crime.
  2. Contact your local ABATE chapter. Let them know what happened and give them the opportunity to warn the members of the problem. ABATE members can also give you much needed moral support in the days to come.
  3. Have an organized representative of the injured or deceased person work with the prosecutor to keep the case on track. Remember that the prosecutor has a power called “prosecutorial discretion.” That means that the prosecutor has the sole authority to decide to prosecute the case or not.

    The prosecutor alone will take the decision to go forward with the case. Meet with the prosecutor to advise of your interest and your ability to respond to any questions.

  4. Make sure you know the facts of the accident. Were there witnesses to the accident? Have you spoken to a witness who said the motorist was engaged in some distracting activity like talking on a cell phone, reading, or curling their hair? (Don’t send me flame mail, ladies, this actually happened.

    A young woman was motoring along, taking curlers out of her hair and drifted across the centerline on a curve, hitting a group of bikers. Four of the riders lost their legs in the accident.)

  5. If you are a witness, separate your anger from the processes. It’s okay to be angry and to want revenge. Use that anger to strengthen your resolve to pursue the case. Do not, however, let your anger overwhelm your abilities to be an objective and credible witness.

    For the prosecutor to take you and your case seriously, he needs to be convinced that you are going to be a strong witness. A witness who appears to be bent on revenge is less credible that someone whose prime interest is to see justice done.

  6. Let the prosecutor know that you are a “stakeholder” in the community. The fact that you have lived in the community for years, own property, vote and take part in community affairs gives the prosecutor the extra bit of affirmation that you are going to help the case and that you will maintain interest in the case.
  7. See the process through. Unlike most trials on TV, the legal process can take a long time and be a grueling process for people who are not familiar with it. You may need to be ready to have your deposition taken by the defendant’s lawyer.

    You will have to make time in your schedule to meet with the police and prosecutor. You will have to be available to testify at the trial. You must be committed to the process to see that justice is done.

  8. Cooperate with the investigating officer. The police are often used by the prosecutor to help decide which cases to prosecute. Cooperating with the police and being polite and civil will mean that the police will have no qualms about recommending the case for prosecution. Let them know if there are witnesses that the police have not identified or interviewed.
  9. Follow up with prosecutor often. Prosecutors are universally overworked and underpaid. There are institutional pressures on them to close cases as early as possible. This is often done with plea bargains. Make sure the prosecutor knows that you are interested in the case and are following it’s progress.

    Knowing that you have a continuing interest in the case will make it more likely that the defendant will be charged and convicted of the proper crimes. Keep in touch with prosecutor by telephone and follow the progress of the case. Make sure the prosecutor has reviewed the case to see if there was any inappropriate conduct on the part of the adverse driver.

  10. Keep good notes of the process and your dealing with the police and the prosecutor in case you need to exert pressure on the prosecutor. If you feel that the prosecutor is not taking your case seriously or not devoting any attention to it, you will need to take appropriate steps to correct that.

    First, write a letter to prosecutor laying out your concerns with the conduct of the case. Use to notes and diary to document your concerns. If that approach fails, send a similar letter to prosecutor’s boss. If that does not work, take your case to the media. In most cases, the prosecutor either is or reports to an elected official. Use the media to put political pressure on the prosecutor. Your notes and diary will be effective here, as well.

  11. Assume the prosecutor and the cops are doing their jobs. Many people have had unfortunate contact with police and prosecutors and may not have kind feelings toward them.

    Do not let your past experiences color your observations of the process. Let the prosecutors and police do their jobs, and they will. That does not mean that you don’t have to keep an eye on the process. Police and prosecutors are human, just like everyone else.

Don’t forget to keep your chapter and A.B.A.T.E. Legal Services appraised of the progress of the case. The local chapter can help organize interested persons and provide support. A.B.A.T.E. Legal Services can help oversee the process and make sure that the legal bases are covered, as well as advise the family as to what their rights and remedies are. If everyone works together, we can see justice done.

Bail Bonds - What they are and what you need to know

An interview with Licensed Bail-Bondsman Al Putman

Al has been bailing people out of jail for over 20 years. He has earned the respect of lawyers, judges and clients with his professional and easy-going style. If you could imagine St. Peter’s assistant at the Pearly Gates, he would look like Al, kindly and always smiling.

When asked about his clientele, Al that half are kids and half are grown-up kids. With the exception of alcohol and drug offenses, Al can usually get you out of jail for all bondable offenses 24-7. So with a simple call to Al, you are on the way out. Call 1-574-223-8883, and Al or Karey (his daughter) is on the way.

When Al bonds you out, he guarantees to the court that you will appear at all hearings and at trial. If you skip, Al has a little time to search for you and bring you back to court. The greater misconception in the Bail-Bond business is that Al gets to keep the full 10% of the bond that he charges for his service. A good portion of that fee goes to a set-aside fund to take care of those who skip.

The court then orders a forfeiture,a nd more money goes to the bonding company that guaranteed the bond. Even though Al covers Indiana, he has a network of associates throughout the country that will work with you on Al’s recommendation. Many states have eliminated the bondsman, but if you travel the country, a bondsman’s telephone number in your back pocket could be invaluable.

According to Al, the toughest part of being a bondsman is facing the disappointed parents. Advice is the corner stone of his business. His most surprising advice is to make sure the kids know that a second charge of marijuana possession is a felony in most states. Most parents and adults do not appreciate how serious that charge is to a young adult.

Choppers Follow-up

Many of you emailed me to say that I answered the insurance for choppers question last month like a typical lawyer – lots of talk and no answers. Fellow motorcyclist Paul Romine cornered me and urged me to find an answer to the question: “ How do we get insurance for bikes that are arbitrarily labeled ‘choppers?’” I will try again.

First, you should debate the definition of chopper with the insurance company. Most companies do not define chopper in their policy. If that is the case, argue that your bike is a custom-made motorcycle. This category is usually more acceptable to motorcycle insurers. Try your A.B.A.T.E. insurance program. They have a sympathetic ear and may be able to convince the underwriter to provide insurance.

If you try without success and continue to ride without insurance, you do so in violation of the law requiring insurance or proof of financial responsibility. Although the reports of a motorcycle causing personal injury to the guy in the SUV or a Mack truck are scarce, those are not the accidents to protect against.

Pedestrians could be another matter. Remember that riding without insurance puts your license at risk. If you elect to go bare in violation of the law, by all means get a good disability policy that would cover your bills if the little old lady with blue hair gets you.

By a copy of this article, I am requesting that STATE FARM, ALLSTATE, FARM BUREAU and PROGRESSIVE reconsider their positions. I remind them that we are the same people who paid insurance to them for our autos, our children's autos, our homes, our businesses, our boats, and so on. We are the same people who buy life, health and disability insurance, and if we are lucky, put some away with them for our rainy days.

There is truly no additional risk for this insurance. I am sending copies of this to our A.B.A.T.E. insurance programs to enlist help to get this message out to the decision makers. If you are a member of A.B.A.T.E. and in the insurance business you can be a special help to this cause by spreading the word. There is no additional risk, so insurance companies PLEASE WRITE THE COVERAGE.

Staying Alive II - More simple rules that we cannot repeat enough

Last month we reviewed some rules of the road for us bikers. Like riding alone, riding with a group can be great fun, but can also lead to significant problems. I’ve participated in my share of group rides, and I’ve seen the good and the not-quite-as-good. What the good ones had in common was a group leader who followed some simple rules:

Make sure the group stays formed-up by not accelerating until the whole group is moving, as when leaving a parking lot. That way, the riders in the rear don’t have to zoom to catch up.

Don’t let the riders get too fatigued. Most mistakes are caused by fatigue. Know your limits and the limits of your group. Keep the novices in front, right behind the ride leader, so that more experienced riders can keep an eye on them.

Have a plan, and communicate it. Make sure each rider knows where you are going and how you plan to get there. If a rider gets separated, they need to know where everyone else is going to be, and the rest of group needs to know if someone has fallen out, where they might be. It just makes sense to have a briefing before leaving so that everyone is on the same page.

Ride Safe and Free,
Rod Taylor
A.B.A.T.E. LEGAL Services

If you have any questions you would like to ask the lawyer, please submit them to ASK OUR LAWYER, at rodtaylor@abatelegal.com.

Ride Safe and Free,

Rod Taylor

A.B.A.T.E. Legal Services

If you have any questions you would like to ask the lawyer, please submit them to: Ask Our Lawyer, P.O. Box 2850, Indianapolis, Indiana 46206_2850, or email rodtaylor@abatelegal.com.